For much of college football history, a 1,000-yard season has been the benchmark for excellence for running backs.
If a back gets enough carries, and does enough with them to hit the four-digit mark, it’s usually an indication that he played well. He hit holes, held onto the ball, and kept the chains moving often enough to stay on the field.
Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins rushed for 1,053 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018. So how did Dobbins grade his performance?
“It was a failure. Last year was failure to me,” Dobbins said during fall camp.
“Failure” is pretty harsh, but the year was unquestionably a step back from Dobbins’ sensational freshman campaign. His yardage dropped from 1,403 to 1,053, and more troubling, he seemed unable to break long runs like he did as a freshman.
Dobbins and the coaching staff say that he was looking to hit a home run every time he got the ball, something that led to way too many swings-and-misses.
His yards per carry plummeted from an outstanding 7.2 in 2017 to a very pedestrian 4.6 in 2018. During a particularly ugly mid-season stretch, Dobbins averaged 3.4, 3.2, 3.5, and 2.2 yards per rush in four straight games.
That was frustrating, but not a season-killer, thanks to the Buckeyes’ unprecedented success with the passing attack.
Now, as the Buckeyes prepare for life after Dwayne Haskins, they know they’ll need a big bounce-back from Dobbins to keep the chains moving and take pressure off new starter Justin Fields. But Dobbins still can’t try to swing for the fences every time he gets the ball.
“He has to make three-yard runs, five-yard runs, four-yard runs, six-yard runs. Before you know it, you start leaning on teams, come out the back end and the home runs will hit naturally,” Day said.
Dobbins has done everything he can to be ready for that role. He said he cleaned up his diet and hit the weight room hard to drop his body fat percentage from 12 to 8 during the offseason.
Now, he has his sights set on some big achievements.
“My main goal is to win a national championship, of course. I just feel like I’m the best running back in the nation. And I want to prove that,” Dobbins said.
August is the time of year when everyone is thinking – and talking – big. There are probably players on most FBS campuses across the country with goals like that.
Of course, only one team can win the national championship, and only one running back can be the best in the nation. But there is reason to think Dobbins may be on his way to living up to his lofty goals.
Multiple times this month, Day has mentioned Dobbins’ name first when he was asked about players who have stood out during fall camp.
Thursday, he was asked to give the name of one player who he has seen rise this month and who he was excited to see play on Saturday.
His response: “I’m looking forward to seeing J.K. run. I want to see that. I think his approach and his demeanor after splitting carries with Mike (Weber in 2017 and 2018), we talked about how he was kind of looking for home runs. I want to see him run with his pads down.”
That echoed something he said a little more than a week earlier. A reporter asked, “Is there any recap generally from the scrimmage that you can give, guys who looked good this past weekend?”
The only name Day mentioned?
“I will say on offense I think that J.K. Dobbins has really run hard in this camp. He has his pads down, he’s playing with speed. I think that’s significant.”
How significant? Dobbins will get a chance to answer that question starting on Saturday against Florida Atlantic. He already knows what he’s expecting out of himself.
“More pop, more explosion, more everything you’ll see this year,” he said.